By Omowale Luthuli-Allen
This is the way that I was struck by the takedown of Joe Biden by Senator Booker and Senator Harris. It was an unprincipled takedown. Biden might not have been paying attention to the admonition of the referee to protect himself, nevertheless, it was a foul and low blow that came from teammates. Joe Biden was right to express that his choice of words about Senator Eastland and Thurmond were unfortunate but were not uttered with the intent to praise racists.
I am a baby boomer, growing up in Louisiana that was ruled by a succession of segregationist’s governors. Of course, the state Senators were Dixiecrat segregationists. These Dixiecrats had an outsized influence on the Democratic Party at the time of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. They were defeated by one of their own, Lyndon Baines Johnson. Johnson once referred to the 64 Civil Rights Act as the “ N “ bill. Johnson flipped after two decades of supporting segregation. This is an example of a leader evolving on a major policy issue.
POTUS Lyndon Johnson changed when he was caught in the vise grip of history. The movement for democratic rights, led by SNCC, CORE and SCLC was unrelenting in forcing the country to abandon its support for segregation. In order to pass the 64 Civil Rights Act, President Johnson had to reach across the aisle. 80 percent of Republicans and 66 percent of Dems voted for the 64 Act.
One of the Senators that Joe Biden spoke of was the hopeless, James Eastland, Dem-Miss. Eastland was entrenched, firmly committed to the old order. James Eastland was the voice of the white South. He was righteously regarded as the arch villain of the civil rights movement. On a positive note, Eastland supported strengthening the Social Security Administration. He also assisted with providing pressure on President Nixon to resign during the Watergate crisis. Let us remember that the hallowed rule of law was under attack as the nation drifted toward a constitutional crisis. President Nixon had thrown down the gauntlet to insist that he was not a crook and started a mantra that he was above the law because he was President.
LBJ and had to simultaneously work to change the oppressive racial order and work with its representatives to forge forward thinking policy.
As a Black Power advocate during the 1960’s, I understood that the people that were in the Dixie statehouses were in control of essential goods and services and that pragmatism was more intelligent than purity.
Busing was a tool employed to bring about racial balance. Busing was a necessary evil that was employed to bring about equal education between the victims of institutionalized racism and the beneficiaries of that inimical policy. In the State of California, Berkley citizens never faced the mayhem visited on peaceful black school kids in the Deep South. My uncles and aunts migrated to California in the 1950’s in order to flee segregation. In Berkeley, voluntary busing was a lot different from forced busing. Again, Berkeley California was not Boston Mass during the time of busing. We salute Kamala Harris and the children that participated in this racial equity experiment. We salute your courage for having your eye on the prize.
Nevertheless, busing was a gallant attempt to repair a broken system and achieve racial balance, but it did not work. We have as much segregation in public education in 2019 as we did in 1969.
What is lacking in the debate about race among the Presidential Candidates is consideration of condition, time and place. Without context, one will not be able to understand that tactics had to be adjusted to real conditions. For most of the 1960’s, segregationists controlled the goods and services necessary for the good life. These vile segregationists controlled the instruments of force and violence, the judiciary and the ability to work and feed your family.
Many of us are proud to be baby boomers and old school. We are fresh enough in our thinking to know that thoughtless generational divide can provide ammunition for the artful demagogue to irreparably damage our body politic. We ask each of the candidates who oppose Donald Trump to remember that they are on the same team.
It is Ok for Joe Biden to take a haircut, but it is not Ok to have his knees busted. This election is fundamentally about getting back on track so that the progressive agenda can succeed. If the continued weakening and desecration of our sacred values and institutions succeeds, it will be decades before the progressive agenda succeeds.
The litmus purity test that Biden is being subjected to is one that most of the Democratic candidates will fail. We all have clay feet.
Vision requires that Democrats, swing voters and progressives unite to elect the strongest candidate possible. By strongest, I mean the most electable.
Photo credit: AP Photo/John Bazemore